Edited by John Dale
Brio Books, Sydney
Sydney has long been the inspiration for chilling and original crime fiction. Gabrielle Lord, Peter Corris, P.M.Newton and others have flipped over its seedy side to take readers right into its underbelly. This collection of fourteen short stories continues the tradition and reaches the highest level of crime fiction.
Sydney Noir is co-published by independent Sydney publisher, Xoum, an imprint of Brio Books, but it is part of something much bigger. The Noir Series is an international list of crime-fiction titles published by Akashic Books, a Brooklyn-based independent company. The series includes over a hundred titles, such as Chicago Noir and Singapore Noir. Better than a travel guide, these books bring you right into the heart of a city.
The publishers at Akashic approached John Dale, Professor of Writing at University of Technology, Sydney, to edit the Sydney collection. A perfect choice, John Dale is the author of seven books, including the best-selling Huckstepp and three crime novels. His own story, ‘Good Boy, Bad Girl’, set in inner-city Newtown, is a surprisingly tender musing about a young woman and her love for her grandmother – with a murder thrown in, of course.
John invited some of the most exciting and well-loved crime fiction authors writing today to contribute to the collection. Doyenne of crime writing, Gabrielle Lord, sets her story close to home on the rocks overlooking a Sydney beach. Her characters seem real although their actions are unexpected. The twist in her ‘Slow Burn’ shows why Lord is one of Australia’s favourite crime writers. Leigh Redhead has worked as an exotic dancer, among other things, and draws on this world, plus the global bestseller, Think and Grow Rich, in her story. I won’t say anything more – except encourage you to read it!
A personal favourite of mine was P.M. Newton’s ‘Chinaman’s Beach’. In just a few pages we come to know the leading character so that we worry for her safety and nod in support at her quick thinking. With her cast of three, Newtown reminds us how short stories can delight as much as a full-length novel and can require just as much skill to write. It is a thoroughly entertaining read. Tougher and brutally raw is ‘Black Cul-De-Sac’ by Philip McLaren, set in Redfern. It is realistic and gritty, and you are left thinking it about well after you’ve finished reading.
Stepping into the daily life in a prison, Mark Dapin creates an incredibly strong story about a man who was easily and quickly blamed for something he didn’t do. The writing is straight forward, plain and utterly compelling.
John Dale has brought together stories that are varied and engaging. If you want something intentionally light, funny and compelling, if murder can be described that way, then turn to ‘The Razor’ by leading author Robert Drewe and ‘The Patternmaker’ by Julie Koh. For stories that are frighteningly real, you can read Eleanor Limprecht’s ‘In the Dunes’ and ‘The Passenger’ by Kirsten Tranter, set in modern-day Balmain.
Nostalgia comes through as a refrain in a few of the stories. Mandy Sayer, John Dale and some others seem to long for a Sydney that has now gone or that is fading. Perhaps they miss the romance of the once seedy city that is now cleaner and safer – on the surface, at least.
This collection makes for ideal summer reading. I hope that someone takes on the challenge of one day editing a collection of Rural Noir, as Australian crime stories go well beyond the cities.